After the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the U.S. into World War II, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were confined to internment camps. One of those camps was located only a few miles away from Chandler – Gila River Internment Camp. 

At its peak there more than 13,000 individuals living at Gila River and during its existence, 16,655 women, men and children were incarcerated there.  Chandler Museum currently has an exhibit on view that follows Japanese Americans to the internment camp and gives a glimpse into how they led their lives in the middle of the desert behind barbed wire.

Un-American: Japanese Internment in our Backyard shares the photos and stories of individuals who found themselves abandoning their property and facing the unknown as their government treated them as traitors simply because they looked like the enemy. The reproduction of the entire registry of families who were incarcerated at Gila River Internment Camp, photos from the camp, letters from internees and a wall-mounted photo of the camp from a distance are highlights from the exhibit. 

“The exhibit has visitors think about the question, ‘what is un-American?’ says Jody Crago, Chandler Museum Administrator. “This exhibit tells a local story that had national significance and affected an entire generation of Americans and their children. It is an important part of our history.”

“There has been a really powerful response to this exhibit,” continues Crago. “Former internees, as well as family members and friends of internees have come in to tell their stories, share photos and find names on the reproduction of the Camp’s registry on the wall.” 

Also part of the exhibit is an installation of 16,655 paper origami cranes to represent every person incarcerated at the Camp. The community effort includes contributions of the paper birds from schools, attendees at Matsuri Festival, civic organizations, and  individuals from all over the country.  

Chandler Museum’s McCullough-Price House is located at 300 S. Chandler Village Dr., Chandler, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Saturday, 12 – 5 p.m. And, as always, exhibits are free for the public to see. Visit the Chandler Museum website for more about the facility and this exhibit.